The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Black Scholars Matter: Striving for scholars, not scholarships

Renee Rothe
Incoming CSUN student Roxi Reed and her family chat with other future CSUN families at the Black Scholars Matter event in the Thousand Oaks Room on April 29, 2023, in Northridge, Calif. File photo by Renee Rothe.

When first year student Alexis Obando-Johnson first came to California State University, Northridge, he struggled to make friends and find a community.

But after being accepted into the Black Scholars Matter program, he saw a huge difference in his college experience.

“I’m surrounded by people like me, I’m taught about the Black experience and I’m in a really cool support system,” Obando-Johnson said. “Being with them is like being a part of a family, and it’s only been a month.”

Black Scholars Matter is located in Manzanita Hall 112, where the walls are lined with murals of iconic African and African American figures painted by past students.

It started in 2021 and was initiated by Program Director and former Africana Studies Chair Theresa White, following the George Floyd protests in 2020. In support of the Black community, CSUN had offered opportunities for faculty and staff to create various programs and curriculum, and a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion grant.

White said she originally applied for the grant with the intention of expanding the Bridge to the Future program at the time, but eventually wanted to establish Black Scholars Matter.

They have partnered with Taft Charter High School, Birmingham Community Charter High School and Hamilton High School to do more outreach and recruit more students for the program, which is merit based and is offered to people, like Obando-Johnson, who are first-time students at the university.

According to White, BSM offers tuition assistance with anything that is not covered by a State University Grant or Cal Grant. She hopes to be able to extend the program to transfer students in the future.

Obando-Johnson said he felt relieved because the program handled his tuition costs.

“I’m able to walk around campus carefree,” Obando-Johnson said. “They’ve also given us a lot of resources with counselors and other people that are willing to help us. They really prioritize making you feel comfortable on campus.”

While BSM does offer financial assistance to students, White said that BSM is not just a scholarship program.

There, students will find a holistic experience within the program, which strives to not only support students financially, but to also elevate Black excellence and make the students feel fully supported.

“It’s a holistic ecosystem of support for the students,” White said. “If students are interested in having an elevated experience, where they’re tapping into their mental, intellectual, physical and spiritual self, their whole self, and having a support system to help guide them in their journey, the students would be a better match [for the program.]”

BSM coordinates with various university departments, including the University Counseling Services, the CSUN Department of Recreation and Tourism and the Oasis Center to offer mental, physical, intellectual and spiritual assistance to students within the program.

“We’ve done focus groups with students of African descent, particularly post-pandemic, to help us understand what they may be struggling with,” White said. “Some of the things that came back with is this ongoing issue about a sense of belonging, but it’s also housing insecurity, food insecurity, their health and wellbeing. BSM really speaks to that because it offers students a sense of belonging.”

BSM’s Creative and Public Relations Manager, Patrick Anderson Jr., who has been with the program for two and half years, said having things like BSM is crucial due to the low enrollment rate for Black students on campus.

“There’s a less than five percent enrollment rate for Black students on campus, so we’re trying to bring students to campus in a way that makes them feel supported and kind of like they’re not doing this alone,” Anderson Jr. said.

Anderson Jr. said that being with the program has transformed him and a handful of other students involved.

“Our first cohort is now a sophomore, and they’re kind of brave,” Anderson Jr. said. “I feel very proud of just the way the students are growing, because now they’ve got their own persona and they’re not afraid to tell you what they think. I feel like what makes me proudest is people feeling like they have their voice, and Black voices do matter.”

Students within the program are also given opportunities to do community service, which White said is important to instill in the students.

White also said that having the cohort has been proven successful in their students’ success, and that having programs like BSM empowers their students.

“It’s really important that when you think about the Black community, you don’t use this deficit-minded model. It’s more of embedding the points of possibility,” White said. “We want our students to be agents of social change. There is an awareness and knowingness that we impart in our students to help them know that their voices are heard, their lives are important and that their lives matter.”

For incoming freshmen interested in applying, the deadline for the intent to apply is Jan. 31. The application deadline is Feb. 15. More information can be found on the program’s website.

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